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Matt Martin taking 'big step' with Maple Leafs

League's leading hitter brings toughness to Toronto

NHL.com @NHL

Left wing Matt Martin signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday and said he is looking forward to joining one of the most storied franchises in the NHL.  

"I'm ecstatic to be part of a prestigious organization like the Toronto Maple Leafs, obviously, an Original Six team, a lot of history," Martin said. "Obviously, they have a great coaching staff, great management, and a lot of good, young players. I think they're going to be a very good team for years to come, and I'm excited to be a part of that."

Martin, 27, spent his first seven NHL seasons with the New York Islanders after being picked in the fifth round (No. 148) of the 2008 NHL Draft. He admitted the decision to leave New York wasn't easy, and dealing with unrestricted free agency for the first time struck a few nerves.

"It's nerve-wracking," he said. "It's hard. You kind of handle it well all week, and the last month when I kind of figured I was heading this way, but when the day finally comes, you have a little bit of a pit in your stomach.

"There's so many things that come to play in picking a franchise, so it was a hard decision, obviously, my time spent in New York was seven years, and it was a big part of my life and I have nothing bad to say about the Islanders organization. They've done nothing but treated me well, and I'm honored to be a part of that, but moving to the Maple Leafs is a big step. I'm confident that it's going to be a pleasant experience to me, and I'm looking forward to getting started."

Video: Matt Martin signs with the Maple Leafs

Martin was part of one of the most effective fourth lines in the NHL last season, with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, scoring 10 goals and an NHL career high 19 points with a plus-2 rating in 80 games.

Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello said Martin stood out as the type of fourth-line player who can help Toronto improve.

"Certainly his size and strength, and we feel his skating is very good," Lamoriello said. "I've had the good experience to play against him for a good number of years to where I came from (New Jersey Devils), so I've seen him over a period of time, and our staff liked him and our coaching staff liked him, and that's the most important thing."

Martin, a native of Windsor, Ontario, will get to play in front of his hometown crowd and for coach Mike Babcock.

"Honestly, it really factored into my decision, I think," Martin said. "He's appealing as a coach. He's been so successful throughout the years with the [Detroit] Red Wings. I've watched players emerge, you know, Justin Abdelkader, under his style; Leo Komarov last season obviously had a big year. It's appealing to me in that sense. I think he's someone that can bring your game to another level, and I think that's what we all want as players."

Martin has 42 goals and 88 points in 438 NHL games. Many consider him to be nothing more than an enforcer brought in to protect the Maple Leafs' young core of players, including forward Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Martin has led the NHL in hits in each of the past five seasons, including 365 in 2015-16.

Video: PHI@NYI: Martin finishes off a great feed from Pulock

"In terms of being a protector, I'm not sure that's the right word," Martin said. "I think I want to go out there and be effective, and in talking with [the Maple Leafs] I think I can play the game. I don't think I'm going out there just to fight, but obviously that's a big part of my game.

"I want to bring more to the team. I want to be a regular player and contribute offensively as well as doing all the other things that have rounded out my game."

He said he feels the Maple Leafs are a "very team-first organization" and he believes he won't have to change his game at all.

"I think you've got to go out there and not try to be something different," he said. "I think I've been successful in this League for playing the way I do. I think coming to the rink every day and working hard, being professional on and off the ice is probably the best way to show leadership. Being vocal inside the dressing room is another way of doing it as well, and I'm sure they have guys that do that and will do that throughout the season. But I think the important thing for any young guys, I know when I came into the League, was the professional wisdom of older guys coming to the rink every day, being prepared, being hard at work, never taking days off and that's what I plan to be."

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